日本, 2017 diary.

June 18th, 2017 – Milan

Only 5 weeks to go ’till our departure to Japan. Preparations are already being made: we bought 40 rolls of Ilford HP5 to bring along during our trip – and more stuff for other photographic purposes, such as even a lightbox.

July 26th, 2017 – 東京

Our trip has begun without hurdles: we managed to sleep well during at least most part of the flight, ending up just tired and not completely destroyed; we reached the hostel in a lovingly quiet part of Tōkyō just across the Sumida river (Kawaguchi); had a lazy day getting accostumed with the surroundings and walked around Akihabara to end up having dinner at てけてけ in Ōji.

Tomorrow we will be getting ready for Wednesday, when we’ll gear up and start visiting the city seriously – first we have to activate the JRP not to go bankrupt just on city-train tickets.

July 27th, 2017 – 東京

Today we had a more active day, and the schedule will get tighter and tighter by the day: although we rested ’till 10AM, we then went to have lunch at Zauo – a really nice restaurant which is the only place I’ve been to during my three trips to Japan yet.

And since it’s in Shinjuku, we went around in the Ashley’s, crowded in small shops. I found myself attracted to food-themed stuff.

This neighbourhood also had mascots to offer: Godzilla (Gojira in Japanese) and one of those inflatable puppets that stare deep into one’s soul with their empty gaze.

Once back to have a shower before heading to Ginza and Roppongi for drinks, I decided to go to a sentō – Japanese typical public bath house – close to our hostel (video link). The experience was amazing: despite being considered a flawed idea by most people I know, I think that’s a refreshing way to rest both the body and the mind. The environment is relaxed, and not more can be said to explain enough the sense of peace that it delivers.

July 28th, 2017 – 東京

Our trip only recently started and we yet are overtaken by the many wonders of both the works of art and of the ‘kitchest’ omiyage (souvenirs). There still are tons of food related merchandise to discover around the city.

Today we activated the JRP and went to Asakusa to visit the Senso-ji, to Ebisu to visit the Yebisu beer museum – and have a tasting – and to Shibuya to have dinner at Sushi Zanmai – one of the few chain restaurants I would ever suggest.

As you can see there is NOTHING more to add. It could be ‘the definitive dinner’.

Final notice before going to sleep to wake up at 6AM to head to the Tsukiji fish market: Giuditta is sure enjoying Japan.

July 29th, 2017 – 東京

I had a long sleepless night, and at 6.30AM we headed to the Tsukiji: it was even better than I remembered, but was sad not to find the group of squid grillers I photographed back in December 2015. There anyway were many other interesting corners were to take pictures of people and get tempted in a very early and raw-fish-based breakfast.

Later during the day we headed to Ueno, one of the few main areas in Tōkyō were I hadn’t been yet before. Through the park and few of its temples, we headed to the Nezu Jinja – a shrine I read about in one of Igort’s comics, even having a smaller version of Fushimi Inari Taisha’s tōri road (video link). Its size and popularity are more modest than laughable, and it accounted as one of the five shrines we met on our walk today. We even discovered a Buddha statue out of the blue near Nippori Station.

Once back to Ueno for a short break and then a visit to the Ameyoko street market, a fearsome storm hit the city and left us with nothing to do and no ideas, other than that of Japanese people being good at putting a smile on your face (video link). Still me and Giuditta helped each other seeing the bright side in the situation: we could come back to Ueno with Valeria and her love for Pancini’s (mine and hers Japanese teacher) favourite areas in the city when she’ll reach us in a week.

July 30th, 2017 – 東京 > 広島

Being overtaken by both sadness (for leaving for another city), and joy (for leaving a clumsy hostel), we headed to the Tōkyō central station to drop off the luggage before going to Kamakura for a few hours. My first stop there always is the Ghibli shop close to the train station, then we went to see the Great Daibutsu at the Kotoku-in – my favourite Buddha statue in Japan.

After yesterday’s evening storm, the weather still wasn’t amazing, by we were lucky enough that when we braced the I-1, some sunlight came out to lit me and help a proper exposure. Once Valeria will be here, we will have a total of three operating cameras – as for now I only take the instant camera out in certain moments.

After that, we had some runs to catch Shinkansens on time (video link): we even ended up almost getting off a station earlier for our connection train, and doing one stop on the wrong train that at least still took our same route. By 10PM we were in our Airbnb finally catching a breath with luggage in one hand and food in the other.

July 31st, 2017 – 広島 > 京都

We had another busy day, but managed to organise its schedule wonderfully and never had to rush. We are getting towards a finer and finer melt of my relax-based type of traveling and Giuditta’s endless curiosity to discover every aspect of a new place: our own attitudes have already met, but day by day we are enjoying more and more what already is the best holiday each of us ever had, and understanding the aspects of each other’s point of view.

As we headed to Itsukushima, I was more and more fascinated by how unearthly and unwilling some sceneries can be, and by the fact that she would see the place also through the eyes of who already had viewed the place before – in different conditions. I even showed her where I took some of the pictures from our own exhibition.

This trip has already been an inextinguishable source of artistic (or pseudo-artistic for some of us – me) inspiration and emotional transpiration. We are waiting for Valeria to come and join us, as she’s a big fan of the country’s pop and reminiscent cultures. While we had to fight with a deer by ourselves today.

We ended our serving strolling through Kyōto’s tiny alley and ended up in Enplus+ – a bar that was as micro as it was nice and welcoming. There were just few people, but they were really that welcoming and warm-hearted that we felt confident enough to play burraco near. And when we left, they made us feel welcomed – or even as part of the family.

August 1st, 2017 – 京都

Today we finally had the chance to sleep ’till late, so we caught it: we ended up leaving the hostel just before lunch, thus enjoying a very relaxing day. We went to the neighbourhood where I lived during my previous trip, including some minor shrines close to the river. But the main event during this day was the visits to the Ginkaku-ji and the Honen-in!

The first is my favourite temple in Japan – I mostly enjoy quiet and tiny temples with gorgeous gardens – while the second was new to me as well. I even managed to get an instant picture of me, to trash about it with my future self!

Then we went to the station for the supermarket-pub combo, watched a video online during dinner at home and then went out for a drink. Fate brought use to the same bar we’ve been to last night, and we both loved our time there!

August 2nd, 2017 – 京都

Kyōto sure is my favourite city in Japan: it is way more man-seized than Tōkyō, and the kind of calmness that can be perceived here is unmatched around all the locations I’ve been to. Maybe just Viareggio – that has nothing in common with one of Japan’s major cities – can match it, due to the fact that a part of my childhood lies there.

The reticulate of old streets that can be found around the city – both the historic renovated ones, and the genuinely old crappy Ashley’s – is fascinating, as much as having such a wide range of temples to choose between. Today we only headed to the Kiyomizu-dera, one of Kyōto’s biggest Buddhist temples.

We even found a really small alley filled with tiny restaurants: once we chose one, we had a nice evening taking notes, chatting, playing burraco, having some sakè, and I even had some okonomiyaki and takoyaki.

Giuditta’s testimony is that the whole trip has been up to her expectations based on my many takes on the wonders of this country: although she thought that some aspects might have been exaggerated by me because of my love for the country, she discovered that it really is a “land of extremes” (as a friend of ours once said), in a way where everything is fascinating, and the negative aspects aren’t as strong as they might seem – even though not absent.

August 3rd, 2017 – 京都

After having concentrated our strenghts in doing some laundry, we went by train to Shin-Ōsaka and Ōsaka. Other than their automated ticket machine making no sense, the city is very fascinating: it’s Japan’ third-biggest city and the neighbourhood we visited – Dotonbori – is very flashy.

We had lunch at a skrewers restaurant (best beef-filled shiitake of my life), then walked around some more and went back to Kyōto. There we had a beer at the station, bought food for dinner then went out for a few quick drinks in the city.  I took some instant pictures of Giuditta during the day, and I really like them! They are a bit yellow, but will fix the scanned files.

In the end, we are only enjoying what the country gives us: good  food, interesting places, memorable photo chances. We brought the good company by ourselves.

August 4th, 2017 – 京都

Today we really slept ’till late and only went to catch the train for Kōbe after lunch. Thanks to this trip, we started using low-speed trains also for longer tracks, just to enjoy the trip even more.

Kōbe isn’t that special at all, and a museum we wanted to visit was closed without any notice. The weather turned from very good and hot, to crazy humid and rainy – and still hot. Yet we loved Kōbe’s Chinatown and found a small fish-restaurant below Sannomiya Station.

Click on the image to see the video of them rehearsing.

During the afternoon we even ended up in a jazz bar: it was completely empty and the owner told us that we would have had to leave in just 45 minutes. One our later nobody told us anything and some musicians came in, to rehearse for the night’s show.

Let’s decided that Kōbe managed a tie thanks to its prizes for unconventional tourists such as us.

August 5th, 2017 – 京都

Let’s avoid talking about Himeji since we had the warmest experience yet there. In fact the most interesting fact came after that: we got back to the Kyōto station to meet Valeria. She arrived today in Narita and took the Shinkansen to join us.

After a short break during a light rain, we went to have a walk in Pontochō. There was a small festival on the close riverside, and food was served, but we decided to stick to our plan: having dinner at Aje Matsubara Honten – a yakiniku grill-place I discovered during my first trip to Japan. Despite the place looking a bit rustic, the food is very good: I had raw tongue and a cow cutlet to grill.

We then tried to go to Enplus+ again, but was booked for a private party. Therefore we went to a small pub to teach Valeria how to play burraco, but she was very sleepy due to the flight. We kept her awake for a little longer, not to suffer from jetlag, then went back home.

From today, it will be Valeria to mostly use the I-1. Because of that I tried to make these most out of it before she borrowed it.

August 6th, 2017 – 京都

Valeria only got here one day ago, and yet found herself caught in one of the busiest – but also most interesting – days of the whole trip: Nara and Fushimi Inari Taisha. The day was very warm and after yesterday’s big heat, the forecast gave us an estimate of 38°C, plus 94% humidity. And tomorrow should be even worse: storms and 98% humidity. But we still enjoyed our day!

Giuditta and Valeria got in love with the park’s deers and the enormous Todaiji’s Buddha statue. I still prefer Kamakura’s Buddha statue, but they don’t agree at all.

We also visited the Fushimi Inari Taisha, a temple dedicated to rice – therefore money – crowded with tons and tons of torī that form entire roadways up the mountain. It can be a challenging walk, and I was very tired, but the sight of joy and amusement on my companions faces was a wonderful sensation, and it made me get renovated strength to keep going. And the shrine truly is mesmerizing: one finds himself lost in a forest alone with the insect noise, orange tōri and kitsune statues.

The humidity almost soaked us, and it was as if we were “more like swimming than walking”. We deserved a fish-based prize.

Although I have to admit that I already had the best on my side during this last year and a half.

August 7th, 2017 – 京都

If there might have been a bad match between a trip in Japan and the weather, we won it completely: today we had rain for the whole time we were awake. Even now it is still raining, and the wind is shrieking in the night. But we still marched on, and followed today’s schedule: Ginkaku-ji – to show it to Valeria – Kinkakuji, Nishiki market and Gion (mostly the temple).

After that we decided that nothing forced us to stay outside at the mercy of the bad weather, so we went home to have dinner and to play burraco, ready for tomorrow’s move to Kanazawa.

August 8th, 2017 – 京都 > 金沢

Today we woke up to have a relaxed transfer to the Kyōto station, in order to leave for Kanazawa. But we hadn’t accounted for the weather: the train was one hour late and it took four hours instead of two and a half.

We finally discovered what was causing such a consistent bad weather: typhoon Noru, the second longest in the Pacific Oceon over the last two centuries. Lucky us! Once in Kanazawa went to our Airbnb accommodation and found a room smaller than expected, then got an extra room for free (at least for now), then found a good skrewers-place where to also play burraco while drinking sakè. So the bad weather still failed to ruin our day.

August 9th, 2017 – 金沢

Compared to other cities in Japan we’ve been to, Kanazawa is really quiet and almost boring. Yet the Omi-cho market – our first destination today – is really interesting and offered a broad range of products. Its workers are as enthusiastic as those from the Tsukiji fish market, and some really cared about modeling for the pictures of the few tourist around.

We had the most luck with the place where to have lunch: Kōrin Sushi is a tiny Sushi bar between the market and the castle’s park. Just few seats, yet a nice offer of seafood and fish.

They were extremely kind and we both have an instant picture as a gift to each other. We all had some of the best for in our Japanese experience: it wasn’t too fancy, just good and effective!

Other than food, Kanazawa offers the Kenroku-en – the third most beautiful garden in Japan: it’s ponds, moss and tangled trees make space for the few constructions, among which there is a stone lantern, whose simplicity is relaxing.

Finally the nightlife in Kanazawa: we found a small bar called ヂィラン (in honour of Bob Dylan) where we had sakè. Even tinier than the place where we had lunch, with an amazing selection of music broadcasted to the TV.

August 10th, 2017 – 金沢

Today we had a much quieter day: we went to Nanao to have a glimpse of the Noto peninsula, but it avoided us and went to far out our reach. The place was nothing much, and we ran back to Kanazawa as soon as possible, to have a more relaxed day.

We re-imagined Apocalypse Now‘s poster to convey the sense of inanity caused by our visit to Nanao.

August 11th, 2017 – 金沢 > 東京

We left Kanazawa early in the morning, just to discover that the non-reserved sits were mostly already taken. Once in Tōkyō we got to our Airbnb, then went around part of the city – mostly Ikebukuro and Shinjuku – to start showing it to Valeria. She was mesmerised by the light, and by how crazy both the people and the city seemed.

We even went to the Hamonika Yokochō to discover a very quiet and colorful street market fit in tight alleys, and we ended our evening at Zauo. We wanted to fish our own dinner, but then decided to go for some other appealing menu item.

Today’s main event was Giuditta’s tattoo: she decided to get one, and the perfect drawing came to her during the trip. We also found a tattoo shop in Shinjuku, whose owner made us fit in his tight schedule.

August 12th, 2017 – 東京 > 青森

Due to an unfortunate series of events, we didn’t wake up at 7:00, but at 8:20. Despite being there more people because of the later time, we managed to have our fish breakfast at the Tsukiji market. I had the toro donburi at a street stand and some raw sea urchin, while they had grilled tuna and baby-octopus.

We then headed to Harajuku to visit two city sites we hadn’t visited yet: Takeshita-dori – a major dubious fashion and tourist site where weirdos can be spotted – and the Meiji-jingu – Tōkyō’s biggest shrine. Big barrels of sakè and wine welcomed us to the temple, as it was a custom to donate them to the temples.

Since we had the Shinkansen to Aomori at 17:20, we ran back to collect our luggage and went to the station. I won’t talk about the train, as it was an annoying experience – due to cars only having reserved seats, unlike other Shinkansens. Once in the hotel in Aomori we turned ourselves in yakuza for the night.

August 13th, 2017 –  青森

After a long sleep in the first and only hotel accommodation of the entire trip, we went to the Aomori fish-market to try the nekko-don – a fish and seafood based dish that one can assemble by himself based on his taste. The place was not huge, but the food offer was amazing! I had two servings – with tamagohotateunimentaikoikuraebimaguro and mostly chūtoro.

Aomori is a very nice city, but it doesn’t have much to offer for such a short trip. We visited the Nebuta no ie warasse, where the carnival carts are stored. Then I had some rest as I had a migraine.

We found a place close to our hotel to have some yakiniku and the rib cutlet I had was amazing! The whole day was relaxing and proves even more how important food is in anyone’s trip to Japan.

August 14th, 2017 – 青森 > 東京

Despite any effort on our behalf, we couldn’t manage to book tickets for the Shinkansen train to Tōkyō, therefore we ended up having to sit in the area in between two cars for two thirds of the trip. But once arrived, we went to Ueno – to both the park and the Ameya Yokochō. There’s a small artificial lake filled with lotus plants, karps and turtles that we wanted to show to Valeria.

For dinner we wanted to introduce Valeria to the wonders and tastes of Sushi Zanmai, that left us all speechless. A perfect day to get ready to the idea of having to go back to Italy in few days.

August 15th, 2017 –  東京

As rain came back to haunt us, we took our time and headed to Kamakura for lunch. The Daibutsu at the Kotoku-in is amazing in any weather condition, and Valeria admitted that it is at least as fascinating as Nara’s Daibutsu.

We then had a drink and played at burraco in a small bar owned by two old ladies that probably opened it when they were in their twenties – probably also the only time they stocked the spirits.

August 16th, 2017 – 東京

The bad weather didn’t abandon us even on the last full day in Japan, but we anyway headed to Asakusa to show the Senso-ji to Valeria. The many umbrellas prevented to many pictures from being taken, but the shops still were an interesting attraction. Close to the temple there was also a pond full with koi – japanese carps (video link).

Akihabara as well wasn’t afraid of the rain, and displayed its many lights and anime-related banners to its visitors. We went by Super Potato (a retro gaming shop) and manga shops till dinner time, to enjoy our last day the most.

At Yodabashi Camera in Akihabara we found a Fujifilm Instax Mini 70 on sale with a cartridge loaded, so shot some instant pics to have final memories from such an amazing trip that got us travelling through a wonderful country with the people we most love.